Monday, December 31, 2007

In The Headlines, Cruise Stories Not Always What They Seem

When hundreds of cruise passengers report to the infirmary with similar symptoms, does that necessarily mean their ship is SICK?

Hardly. But you'd never know that from news reports about nasty cruise ship diseases that attack unsuspecting vacationers. CruiseDiva.com would like to honor USA Today with 2007's Most-Misleading-Headline Award for... "Curse of Camilla hits Cunard's Queen Victoria." While the American press gleefully reports on every outbreak of norovirus (acute gastroenteritis) on cruise ships, the British tabloids are having a field day with this one because the champagne bottle failed to smash against Queen Victoria's hull when The Duchess of Cornwall named the ship earlier this month. Apparently British reporters are superstitious, particularly when it comes to members of the Royal Family.

Let's look at the real story. Is there an actual cruise ship disease? No, not hardly. However, you'd never know that by the way newspapers and television report every outbreak of 'stomach flu' on cruise ships and fail to mention how common it is elsewhere. It's actually possible to pick up a norovirus almost any place and you're more likely to get it on land than at sea. Get the real story behind the headlines from CruiseDiva.com's article, Is Your Cruise Ship Sick?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Our Favorite Cruising Video of 2007

Enter "cruises" into the search box on YouTube and the result is a fascinating array of how-I-spent-my-vacation home movies and video sales tools created by travel agencies. Refine your search to a specific cruise line or ship name and you'll find even more. Search for "QE2" and in the list you'll find the "QE2 Amarillo Video."

What's that? The music video filmed for charity during the World Cruise 2006 is set to the Tony Christie single (Is This The Way To) Amarillo? and features over 500 crew members from Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth 2. I'm not sure what charity benefited, but it seems that everyone from the captain on down to guys in the garbage room participated in the lip-syncing, booty-shaking spoof. Who says there are no singing waiters on Cunard?

After you've seen the charity video, don't miss the "QE2 Amarillo outtakes"... you'll want to see the pillow fight. Look closely, was that a real cat on the navigational charts?

Hat tip to Cruise News Daily for sharing these links back on Feb 2nd in an article entitled "How Often Does QE2 Call at Amarillo?"

Friday, December 28, 2007

Cunard Queens to Rendevous in New York

If you're in New York on January 13th, you won't want to miss a bit of maritime history in the making when fireworks and fanfare mark the first and only meeting of Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth 2, and the new Queen Victoria. This is the first time in Cunard Line’s 168-year history that three Queens have been in service at the same time and, with QE2 retiring in November 2008, it will also be the only occasion to see all three in one place.

“This is an historic occasion for Cunard and New York, marking the only time that the three ships will be together…ever!” said Carol Marlow, president of Cunard Line. “More history will be made as our grand dame QE2 departs on her 26th and final World Cruise and Queen Victoria will depart on her maiden World Cruise,” Marlow added.

The regal fleet is scheduled to depart at 6:30 p.m. Queen Mary 2 will sail from her home port, Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, while QE2 will depart from Pier 92 and Queen Victoria will depart from Pier 88, both at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal. Then, the three Queens will rendezvous and sail past the Statue of Liberty during a spectacular fireworks celebration at approximately 7:00 p.m. Thousands are expected to gather at ideal viewing locations to wish the majestic fleet of Queens “Bon Voyage” and see the fireworks celebration.

The best spots for a clear view are:
  • Battery Park: On the southern shoreline of Manhattan.
  • Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park: Overlooking the Hudson River with great views of the Statue of Liberty.
  • The Esplanade: Running the entire length of Battery Park City, along the Hudson River from Stuyvesant High School on the north end all the way south to Battery Park.
  • Hudson River Park: 550 acre park extends for five miles along the Manhattan shoreline from Battery Place to West 59th Street.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Azamara Cruises Takes Specialty Dining To A New Level

It's only been months since Azamara Cruises was officially launched and they've already proven that they are listening to their passengers. While developing their brand, Azamara worked diligently to create a deluxe onboard experience and initially everyone got at least one complimentary meal in the specialty restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina (suite occupants got two). However, passengers felt there was nothing deluxe about paying a surcharge if they wanted additional reservations.

In a responsive move, dining in both specialty restaurants is now always complimentary. Guests accommodated in staterooms are invited to reserve two evenings' dining and suite guests are entitled to three reservations. Additional reservations are available on a space-available basis and can be arranged either by butlers, or at the desk in either restaurant or Discoveries, the main restaurant. It is recommended that a $5 per person gratuity be extended when dining in the specialty restaurants.

A couple details haven't changed. For the "Tastings" option in Aqualina, a surcharge of $50 per person includes a set menu of six courses that pairs wine with each course. The charge does not include gratuity but covers the wines that are served. There is also a nominal surcharge for premium cuts in Prime C.

For more information about Azamara Cruises, Enter the World of Deluxe Cruising with Cruise Diva.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Did Santa Bring You A Cruise For Christmas?

There weren't any cruise documents under your tree? Then it's time to take matters into your own hands and plan a 2008 cruise on your own.

When I'm thinking about booking a cruise I do the same thing you should... research, research, and more research. Then I call my trusted travel agent. One thing I learned over twenty years ago is that when planning a costly cruise vacation, the last thing you want is a travel agent who has:
  • never been on a cruise
  • calls a cruise ship "the boat"
  • or worst still, quotes BROCHURE rates.

Not all travel agents are as savvy as the one I trust with my hard-earned cruise vacation dollars. So, how do you find a cruise travel professional you can trust? And what are the advantages of using a travel agent? Here's Cruise Diva's advice about Finding The Right Travel Agent.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cruises: New Ships For 2008

It's almost 2008 and the beginning of "Wave Season"—the time of year when winter doldrums set in and it's time to think of warm sea breezes and booking your next cruise.

Are you tired of the same-old, same-old and looking for a brand new ship? The good news afloat is there will be a variety of them launching throughout the year from both mainstream and premium cruise lines. To assist you with your selection, Cruise Diva presents New Ships for 2008.

Enjoy!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Queen Victoria's Virtual Tour

Over her three-day celebratory launch in Southampton, England, more than 7,000 well-wishers toured Cunard's newest ocean liner, Queen Victoria. Now, an interactive link on the Cunard website makes it possible for everyone to click-and-tour the ship's spectacular interiors in the company of her distinguished Captain, Paul Wright, and Cunard Entertainment Director Alistair Greener.

Appropriately, the tour begins with Captain Wright welcoming visitors on board in the Grand Lobby, the ship's social center. Greener then takes viewers through each of the ship's magnificent spaces, including The Royal Court Theatre and exclusive private viewing boxes, the Queens Room, the two-story Library and The Cunard Royal Spa & Fitness Centre.

"We are harnessing the power of multimedia technology to introduce Queen Victoria in an entirely new way," said Carol Marlow, president of Cunard Line. "They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so we are thrilled to add this 'virtual tour' to help visitors get an inside and advance look at the ship," she added. Embedded video images provide 360° views of the ship's public rooms and accommodations and can be found on the Line's homepage at www.cunard.com.

After you've taken the virtual tour, read the Cruise Diva's illustrated Queen Victoria Preview.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Plan A Really BIG Cruise From Galveston

Royal Caribbean International’s Voyager of the Seas launches seasonal sailings on Dec. 23rd with 7-night western Caribbean cruises from Galveston, Texas. The largest cruise ship to call Galveston island "home" promises to boost waterfront revenues that began sagging last year when cruise lines diverted ships to other cruising regions. The 138,000-ton Voyager of the Seas carries as many as 3,114 passengers and features an ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall, and nine-hole miniature golf course.

According to the Galveston Daily News, Port of Galveston officials reported a $1.5 million dip in revenues this year due to increasingly popular--and profitable--European itineraries that lured ships away. However, the arrival of larger ships, such as Voyager of the Seas, will help offset revenue declines. Each time a passenger boards or debarks a ship, Galveston port collects service fees and cruise passengers pay between $45 and $100 to park in port lots as well.

Royal Caribbean plans 20 trips this season, proving that, yes, there is a Santa Claus.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An Unexpected "Excursion" From Dawn Princess

When it became apparent last Friday that Laura Montero, a 14-year-old Illinois girl vacationing aboard Princess Cruise' Dawn Princess, had a "hot" appendix and needed surgery, the cruise ship's captain sent out a distress call that was answered by the USS Ronald Reagan. On training maneuvers about 500 miles away, the nuclear carrier was the closest ship with a hospital facility. According to a news release from the US Navy, the aircraft carrier steamed overnight toward the cruise ship, which was about 250 miles northwest of Cabo San Lucas when the call was received. A helicopter took off from the Reagan before dawn on Saturday to close the final 175-mile gap between the ships. After a 45-minute flight, the crew lowered a medic onto the cruise ship deck and the teen was loaded into a basket, lifted into the helicopter, and flown back to the Reagan for an emergency appendectomy.

Without room on the helicopter to accommodate her, Montero's mother was required to stay aboard the cruise ship. When Dawn Princess docked in San Diego on Sunday, the Navy flew the girl’s mother to the Reagan aboard a C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery flight. The Reagan arrived in San Diego on Tuesday as scheduled and the teen was moved to a civilian hospital. Thanks to the US Navy and crew of the USS Ronald Reagan, Montero is expected to made a full recovery.

Cruise News Daily reports that Dawn Princess' Captain Marco Fortezze and his senior officers will host the Reagan's commanding officer, Captain Terry Kraft and his senior officers at a luncheon aboard the cruise ship when they are once again in port together in San Diego on Jan. 6th.

We wish them Bon Appetit and offer three cheers for a job well done!

Photo: Medical personnel aboard the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan unload 14-year-old Laura Montero from an HH-60H Seahawk on Dec. 15 following an emergency medical evacuation at sea. (MC2 Joseph M. Buliavac/Navy)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

And Norwegian Gem's "IT" Girl Godmother Is...

First, a few word's from Norwegian Gem herself, "The chicest party to hit the Big Apple is almost here. That’s right, I’ve made it to New York City and everything is set for my Christening Ceremony and Inaugural Sailing. I can hardly contain my excitement. The City is looking oh so glamorous and you can feel the buzz in the air (along with the chill). It’s nice to be here (finally) in my home for the winter. I love New York and I must say I’m a great addition to the city that never sleeps."

And who is the ultimate Norwegian Gem "IT" Girl godmother? I'm not there, but my spy (with a Blackberry) tells me she's Cindy Cardella, age 31 from Fairfield, NJ.

Congrats, Cindy!!! You GO, girlfriend!!

Check out the Norwegian Gem blog at www.gemitgirl.com and watch "License to Thrill" starring all my Main Men at NCL.

Discovery Offers Free Cruises To Military Personnel

For the past four years, Discovery Cruise Line has offered a special program for military personnel serving in the military overseas. To thank them for their service, Discovery offers those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any time during the preceding year a free Discovery day cruise to Grand Bahama Island.

Hanns J. Hahn, General Manager of Discovery, said, "We want to recognize our military personnel and remind families of military personnel about this program so they can give them a gift of a totally free cruise this Holiday Season."

The offer, which is valid until December 31, 2010, is for a free roundtrip cruise to Grand Bahama on Discovery Cruise Line including the cost of all meals on board, all service charges, taxes, and Bahamian departure fees. There are no additional costs involved.

To register a family member, friend or loved one for the free cruise, simply register that person's name online at DiscoveryCruiseLine.com and Discovery will mail a receipt and a holiday card for them to pass on to the service man or woman. The receipt will entitle the person to his or her complimentary Discovery cruise. The receipt should be presented at the pier at the time of sailing, together with a Military ID and a letter from their unit confirming the places of service during 2007. Advanced reservations are required.

Discovery sails daily from Ft. Lauderdale to Grand Bahama Island, departing at 7:45 am and arriving back at the pier at 10 pm. Each year Discovery carries approximately 200,000 passengers between the two destinations.

The cruise features all the amenities of a longer cruise in one fun-filled day, including three all-you-can-eat lavish buffet meals on board, exciting casino action, live entertainment, outdoor games and activities, contests, spacious sun decks, a swimming pool, duty free shopping, and more. For more information about this offer and for reservations call 1-800-93-SHIPS or visit Discovery's web site at http://www.discoverycruiseline.com/.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Grand Cayman Asks "Where Are The Cruise Ships?"

In a report report issued by Cayman Net News, businesses catering to tourists in George Town, Grand Cayman say they are suffering due to the decline in cruise ship visitors to the island.

Unfortunately, Grand Cayman experienced more than a 30 percent loss in cruise ship business during 2007. The Cayman Islands' Department of Tourism has released discouraging figures: 70 cruise ships called at Grand Cayman in November 2006, but the November 2007 schedule only included 53 ship calls. December figures are just as dismal with 72 cruise ships due to stop compared with 92 in 2006. That translates into 100,000 fewer visitors for November and December 2007 compared to 2006. On days when there are no ships in port, some George Town businesses report a decline from thousands of dollars in sales per day, to zero.

The bottom line is that weather and the preference for cruising ports-of-call with berthing facilities has hurt Grand Cayman. We love the island and hope things pick up for them.

For the full story, see Cayman Net News.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Norwegian Gem At Sea

Like most of Norwegian Gem's "It" Girl BFFs, I slept in today. After grabbing coffee, my first stop of the day was the Bridge Viewing Area where I discovered officers on duty steering Norwegian Gem toward a patch of blue sky and sunshine.

Most of the pool deck has been cleared of slush, but it's still cold outdoors and I won't be joining the brave souls who are enjoying the hot tubs. However, indoors we're the hottest thing at sea. We'll be bowling later in Bliss, the ultra-hip South Beach-style lounge with four bowling lanes.

While inspecting the launderette, which is complimentary for passenger use, I ran into one of the Second City Players who pointed out that Bliss is a hip late-night dance spot for the younger crowd, which leaves Spinnaker Lounge free as a secondary show lounge and dance club for the (ahem) older crowd. Later tonight, Bliss is the site of a White Night Party... oops, my wardrobe is black and I have nothing white to wear. Have I missed something? Is white the 'new' black? I hope no one notices my fashion error. I may have to join my "older" peers to party in Spinnaker. It's good to have choices and there are plenty of those here on Norwegian Gem.

About that launderette, no... I wasn't actually washing clothes. I was just checking it out in case I need to iron something later.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

On Board Norwegian Gem in Boston

"The weather outside is frightful" here in Boston. Thankfully, my flight from Atlanta arrived on time before it began to snow. And snow. And snow.

By the time I'd finished lunch in Norwegian Gem's Garden Cafe--excellent cheese tortellini prepared on the spot--there was more than a dusting of cold white stuff covering the pool deck. It's been a long time since I've seen snow and it was a new experience to see it while on a cruise ship.

For a while it appeared that we weren't going anywhere on our 2-night cruise to nowhere. As snow continued to fall, it delayed many travelers and we waited on late arrivals. Instead of sailing at 5pm, we finally left Boston at 7pm. I don't think anyone showed up for the poolside sailaway party, but I did see a few people making snow "angels" on the open decks.

Never mind the weather, Norwegian Gem is indeed the "It" girl in every sense of the word, especially if that word is food. Eating... again... in Cagney's for dinner--a delicious steak and yummy Bananas Foster for dessert. Before I turn in I'm going to the show, "World Beat," billed as a musical voyage around the world.

Anyone up for a snowball fight? Maybe we'll even make a snowman tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Norwegian Dream: For Norwegian Cruise Line It's Deja Vu All Over Again

Passengers on board Norwegian Dream's current "Chilean Fjords/Strait of Magellan" cruise that departed Buenos Aires, Argentina last Sunday and is scheduled to end on Dec. 23rd in Valparaíso, Chile are getting a bit more time in Montevideo, Uruguay than they anticipated. The 1,750-passenger cruise ship remains in port after colliding with a container barge that was adrift in the channel on Monday, causing the harbor to close until Tuesday afternoon.

Norwegian Dream returned to dock Tuesday evening with damage to its bow and forward ballast tank that couldn't be repaired as quickly as anticipated. NCL has released a statement that the ship will not sail until late Thursday afternoon and, as a result, will miss several significant ports of call. Passengers will receive a $150 per person on board credit, plus approximately $61 per person in government taxes and fees to compensate them for the missed ports. In addition, they have been offered a 50% fare refund and a 15% credit for a future cruise booked while on board. Passengers who wished to disembark and fly home will receive the 50% refund and the on-board credit as well.

In an odd twist of fate, the cruise ship/barge collision is a circumstantial repeat. Back in 1999, Norwegian Dream experienced a similar brush with a container ship in the English Channel.

I'm leaving early--very early--in the morning to embark on NCL's newest ship Norwegian Gem for a 2-night preview sailing from Boston. It's supposed to SNOW in Boston. Here's hoping it doesn't start until my plane has landed and I'm aboard.

Come Friday, will I be bowling on Norwegian Gem or trying to return home? Check here for an update!

Queen Victoria: A Royal Occasion

While some viewed Cunard Line as a declining company during the 37 years that passed between the launches of Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Mary 2, others with a vision were hard at work. With the addition of Queen Victoria to the fleet, the Cunard lion once again roars!

It was an honor to be invited to attend the Queen Victoria Naming Ceremony in Southampton on Monday. Truthfully, while I've attended many ship namings, I'm still in awe of the preparations Cunard Line made for this very special event. While the the sun was shining, it felt frigid outside. Even so, we were comfy in a massive auditorium erected pierside for the occasion--2,000 guests were accommodated within a structure that included risers, assigned seating, and even an orchestra pit and, of course, a Royal Box. The program proceeded in Three Acts, with British actor Sir Derek Jacobi, in the guise of Phileas Fogg (remember the character from "Around the World in 80 Days"?), acting as master of ceremonies and chronicler of liner history. Included in the acts were performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, The Royal Marines Fanfare Trumpeters, Gypsy Dance from Carmen, Bizet sung by Katherine Jenkins, and moving performances by tenors, Alfie Boe, Jon Christos, and Gardar Thor Cortes, and the Choirs of Winchester Cathedral.

Act II was the highlight--The Naming of the New Cunard Queen. With Queen Victoria's bow visible behind the stage, Captain Wright escorted Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall to perform the Naming and... the champagne bottle failed to break. No problem. To the relief of all, an Easy Button took care of it and a back-up bottle DID shower the ship with bubbly. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales looked on fondly as his lovely wife accepted cheers of approval and sparkling confetti filled the air.

In a bow to the season, the program concluded with "O Come All Ye Faithful" and I admit tears filled my eyes with the wonder of "snow" showering Cunard officers and crewmembers on stage. Words really are inadequate to describe the pageantry. It was an event that I'll never forget. My whirlwind trip came to an end after a formal gala reception, sumptuous dinner, and more entertainment on board. Then it was time to bid farewell to Queen Victoria and catch an early flight home.

For a peek at photos of the Queen Victoria Naming Ceremony, visit Cruise Diva's Album.

More pictures will follow, including Cruise Diva's personal photo tour of Queen Victoria.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On Board Queen Victoria

Brrr… it’s chilly here in Merry Olde England. Actually, it's downright cold (and a good reason to shop for something to keep warm). We don’t have to worry about it for this afternoon’s Naming Ceremony for Queen Victoria in Southampton, though. An auditorium has been erected pierside and we’ll be sheltered and warm.

Oh, you want to know about the ship? She’s beautiful, dignified, regal, and should please her tradition-minded guests. The Queens Room is so traditional that there are three etchings displayed there which were created by none other than HRH Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Past the formal areas, there is a handsome spa with all the feel-good bells and whistles and plenty of room to play by two pool areas.

What has most impressed me so far? Britannia Restaurant is drop dead gorgeous and we enjoyed an exceptional luncheon there yesterday. I love the Winter Garden--a tranquil, yet ‘living’ space with plants and rattan furniture and a retractable roof to let in sun shine and warm sea air when the weather is fair. Plus, there is the legendary Cunard service that is simply superb.

Oops... time to get dressed up for lunch in Queens Grill and the royal formalities this afternoon. Ta ta until later! I'll have lots more to report, with dozens of photos.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ocean Liner Or Cruise Ship?

That's a question usually limited to "ship junkies" who argue that the boxy superstructure and shallow draft of modern vessels defines them as cruise ships, while real ocean liners (insert a sigh here) were sleek in appearance with a deep draft. Notice the "were" in that sentence--like I said this is normally a discussion among ship junkies, amateur or otherwise.

So, it came as something of a surprise to see the debate in, of all places, The Daily Echo (a Gannett newspaper in the UK), which reports, "Some quarters have questioned whether Queen Victoria should be classed as either a liner or a cruise ship but the company's president and managing director Carol Marlow is definite on the subject. 'Cunard Line ships do not sail on cruises, Cunard liners sail on voyages,' she said."

The paper seems to solve the riddle by stating, "It seems then that Queen Victoria is something of a hybrid. She will be taking her passengers on fabulous cruises but her hull has been strengthened to allow her to make transatlantic voyages thus giving her liner status." However, comments by readers go back and forth on the issue.

In any case, there are some excellent images of Queen Victoria's Southampton arrival in a photo gallery on the site. Just follow that link if you aren't interested in the "controversy." I'm no expert on ocean liners, but I'll let you know my opinion after I've been on board for a couple nights.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Packing For A Cruise

Even though I travel a lot and use numerous "tricks" when filling suitcases, I must admit that I dread packing more than any other task.

While getting a rollaboard ready for my flight to London tomorrow, I'm suffering pangs of doubt. Do I really need this item or that one? Can I substitute a less bulky pashima for the shawl I planned to wear?

This is a short trip (see yesterday's entry for details about the Queen Victoria event I'm attending), so all I'm taking is a carry-on rollaboard and a small tote that contains necessities for the flight. For the return flight I'll have to put the tote and its contents inside the rollaboard until I actually board the plane because the UK only allows ONE carry-on. It's crunch time and the pashima gets to go, while my new shawl stays home. Darn! I'll need the space later, but at least I know the rules. I looked them up ahead of time. I'm prepared for the UK's one carry-on allowance.

One good thing about the carry-on regulation regarding liquids is that 3-ounce bottles of potions and lotions weigh a lot less than larger size containers. And I have to lift my rollaboard into the overhead compartment when I board my plane so I try to keep that in mind. If I can't lift it at home, it just won't fly.

Those "tricks" I mentioned above? You can use them too. Just check out the Packing section on CruiseDiva.com when you're planning your next cruise!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Royal Reception for Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria, the newest royal in Cunard Line's historic fleet, is all set for her official Naming Ceremony in Southampton, England. Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall will do the champagne-smashing honors on Monday, December 10th in the presence of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.

More than 7,000 people are expected to visit the ship over the course of Queen Victoria's three-day celebratory debut, including more than 2,000 VIP guests, celebrities, and dignitaries who will dine throughout every restaurant on the ship during the evening gala celebration. In preparation, Cunard has announced the promotion of Jean-Marie Zimmermann to the position of Global Culinary Ambassador, responsible for overseeing Cunard Line's trio of ocean-going liners. He's already in action planning and preparing the culinary program for Queen Victoria, which includes a multitude of receptions, lunches and dinners for the official Naming Ceremony.

Preparations are also being made here in Georgia. I'm flying out on British Airways on Saturday to attend. Yes, the Cruise Diva received one of the coveted invitations, which is on heavy stock paper rimmed in gold. Wow! Can you tell I'm excited? I've torn my closets apart to come up with a suitable wardrobe. Naturally, I've shopped a bit, although I couldn't find just the right hat.

Unfortunately, I'll miss the fireworks that are scheduled for Tuesday evening when Queen Victoria sets sail on her maiden voyage. I'll be back in Atlanta by then. But, I promise to remember each and every detail about the ship, the meals (I know I'll be dining one evening in Queens Grill), the Naming Ceremony, and what the Duchess wore--including HER hat. The stories and photos will be here on the Blog and on CruiseDiva.com next week.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cruises: The Perfect Ending... Or NOT

All good things must come to an end and that's especially true with cruise vacations.

To cruise passengers, debarkation is generally the most unwelcome aspect of their trip. After being coddled and pampered on board, a rude re-entry into the real world generally awaits in the pierside terminal when arriving in the United States. I'm not talking about the mad scramble to find my black luggage in a sea of black luggage. What irritates me the most are the lines and, especially, the delays.

First, we cool our heels waiting to be called to debark. This isn't the fault of anyone on the ship--they have to hold up passengers so the terminal doesn't get overcrowded. It's a safety issue. When we finally hear the announcement for our group, reach the terminal, snag a porter to handle the suitcases we've retrieved, then we face the dreaded Immigration line.

Just to be fair, some ports do a better job than others, but none appear to be the picture of efficiency. Of course, I'm talking about the line for Immigration & Customs. Your tax dollars at work, fellow cruisers. The cruise lines have no control over them. Neither do the Port Authorities. It's the Feds in action. Or inaction. And it's not the individual workers who are at fault. Although I've run across some with a really bad attitude, most are amiable sorts if your paperwork is in order. It's just that there aren't enough of them. For instance, recently in Miami there were only six agents to clear a ship carrying nearly 3,000 passengers. The terminal has twelve stations, yet only half of them were manned. You do the math. Under-staffing is what causes the back-up.

Words to the wise--fill out your Customs Declaration completely and accurately and sign it before you leave the ship. Have that form and your identification in hand. Be prepared to answer any questions you're asked (if you've purchased liquor, they will certainly ask you how many bottles). Smile and be pleasant. And, to get through the process as efficiently as possible, get a passport!

Here's how to apply for a passport.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Mark Your Calendar For Disney Cruise Line's New Itineraries

Disney Cruise Line is introducing two new eastern Caribbean itineraries for 2009 and special offerings for 2008. "Expanding our offerings in the eastern Caribbean provides our first-time cruisers an array of popular destinations to choose from, while also providing seasoned Disney cruisers new destinations to visit and explore with Disney," said Tom McAlpin, president of Disney Cruise Line.

McAlpin noted that there are also special offerings during 2008, including a summer season of sailings to the Mexican Riviera. As an added summer treat, Disney Cruise Line has redesigned their four-night itinerary from May 11 through Aug 24, 2008 to feature two stops at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. Castaway Cay continues to be one of the highlights of a Disney Cruise vacation, and this new itinerary affords twice as much time--two full days!--to enjoy all the amenities and activities of the tropical oasis.

On select sailings in 2009, Disney guests will be able to explore either St. Croix or Tortola. The largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix offers a wonderful mix of colonial-style architecture, natural wonders, quaint shops, and spectacular marine habitats. Tortola, part of the British Virgin Islands, features centuries-old ruins, botanical gardens, sugar mills, sensational bays, and beaches. The new eastern Caribbean itineraries will stop at St. Croix or Tortola, St. Thomas, and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay.

Additionally, Disney Cruise Line will continue to offer its current version of the eastern Caribbean cruise. Scheduled in-between the new special sailings, it includes calls at St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Castaway Cay.

Check out Cruise Diva's Cruise News for specific itinerary dates and more details. Call Disney Cruise Line at 888/DCL-2500, or contact your travel agent for reservations.

Photo: Copyright CruiseDiva.com

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Sad Cruise Ending

Hattiesburg, MS: The Hattiesburg American reports that the search for a local 77-year-old man who went missing from Carnival Cruise Lines' Fantasy has ended. After investigators discovered a suicide note in the man's cabin, the Coast Guard suspended its search for him at 10:15 am, Sunday, Dec. 2nd. Apparently the note indicated the man, who took the cruise alone, had health problems. The emergency contact person listed on the man's cruise forms indicated he was divorced and, "he did not have any family."

While the victim's identity has not been released, he was reportedly last seen at 7 pm Friday. The Coast Guard searched 400 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico and part of the Mississippi River from the Southwest Pass at the mouth of the river, north to the Port of New Orleans, and even sifted through the ship's dock area in hopes that the missing passenger would be located.

Carnival Cruise Lines has released this statement, "During the debarkation process for the Carnival Fantasy, which had docked in New Orleans (Saturday) morning at the end of a five-day cruise, it was determined that one passenger was unaccounted for. The 77-year-old male was traveling by himself in a balcony suite. The cabin door was double-locked from the inside but the guest was not in the cabin. All proper authorities, including the FBI and US Coast Guard were notified. Based on a variety of factors, foul play is not suspected."

Cruises: Port Everglades Snaps Up New Royal Caribbean Ships

Have you tried to get a decent rate in a Fort Lauderdale hotel recently? The sky-high prices appear to reflect the popularity of Port Everglades as a cruise embarkation port and it's about to get even more crowded.

The Sun Sentinel reports that Royal Caribbean has agreed to homeport both of its two new mega-size Genesis-class cruise ships at Port Everglades year-round, ending months of competition for the business between the Broward County port and the Port of Miami.

Royal Caribbean's base of operations in South Florida has long been the Port of Miami--the line is even heaquartered there--but the new agreement creates a major, long-term partnership with Port Everglades by guaranteeing 17 million passengers over the next decade. While Miami and Port Canaveral currently out-rank it, Fort Lauderdale officials say the Royal Caribbean deal will make Port Everglades the largest cruise port in the world. Each Genesis-class ship will carry up to 6,400 passengers and 2,000 crews members on weekly Caribbean cruises, which are expected to begin sailing from Port Everglades in mid-2009.

One of Port Everglade's aging terminals will be renovated at a cost of $37.4 million to accommodate the new ships. Local taxpayers won't be footing the bill, though. According to the Sun-Sentinel, cruisers will bear the cost through a $5.70 surcharge imposed by Royal Caribbean on passengers. That's in addition to the $9.95 user charge each passenger pays. It appears that Floridians have taken a page from the state of Alaska's playbook on charging cruisers to "use" their state.

A Royal Caribbean spokesman said the cruise line chose Port Everglades over Miami because it offered "a little bit more in terms of servicing passengers and the development of the port." Cruise Diva has an opinion on that and will share it shortly.

Photo Above: Port Everglades on a Late Saturday Afternoon

Friday, November 30, 2007

Celebrity Cruises: Turning Up The Heat

No, it's not a new threat about global warming, although it's sure to be a "hot spot" at sea.

In collaboration with the renowned Corning Museum of Glass, Celebrity Cruises will bring the captivating art of glassblowing to sea when the Museum's "Hot Glass Show" debuts on Celebrity Solstice in December 2008. Located on the ship's upper deck within a custom-designed, outdoor glassmaking studio, the Hot Glass Show will present the history and craft of glassblowing, from its ancient origins to its current countless uses. Three resident "gaffers"--highly skilled glassblowing artists--will educate and entertain cruisers with live glassmaking shows, lectures and workshops.

"We're confident our guests will be awestruck by what we're offering with The Corning Museum of Glass," said Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Dan Hanrahan.

Celebrity Cruises' microsite, www.cruisecelebritysolstice.com, offers a sneak peek at The Corning Museum of Glass Hot Glass Show on Celebrity Solstice.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Have you been to FunShip Island?


The Internet continues to amaze me with all the cool stuff that continuously pops up. One site that I've visited in the past was brought to my attention again recently and it's almost as much fun as a real cruise.

I'm talking about FunShip Island, Carnival Cruise Lines' playful behind-the-scenes look at a cruise. It's said that cruise ships are destinations themselves these days and I agree. While aboard FunShip Island I visited the Piano Bar, played craps in the Casino (I won!), and relaxed in the sauna while listening to music I downloaded to my iPod. I also took a wild ride down the ship's twisting waterslide. Woo hoo!

Then I went ashore and relaxed at the beach before interacting with a playful dolphin. Filppy let me feed him, danced for me, and then we swam together.

To bring a ray of sunshine into a dreary winter day, take a virtual visit to FunShip Island!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How About Some Cheese With Your Wine?

Where can connoisseurs savor the perfect pairing of 'vin et fromage' from a 25,000-bottle cellar of more than 350 labels and 40 types of cheeses while traveling the globe? Where can the intrepid traveler learn first-hand that the first cheese was made in the Middle East or that an aged Dutch Gouda is the perfect complement to a California Chardonnay? Why, only aboard Crystal Cruises' 2008 voyages, when all of the onboard wine sommeliers will be certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers and certified Cheese Sommeliers will be introduced on the line's 60+ voyages in destinations around the world.

The training and knowledge of the wine sommeliers allows guests to turn enjoyable samplings into edifying experiences with in-depth information about the history, horticulture, vineyards, and subtle flavors of the wines being tasted, including rare and extraordinary wines. To complement fine wines, the cheese sommeliers will be expanding Crystal's selection of regional and artisanal cheeses, and can offer insights on sampling suggestions, the harmony with wines and spirits, and information on the history, manufacturing and fine distinctions of each cheese. Extensive hands-on training provides the cheese sommeliers with in-depth knowledge of unique blends from numerous countries worldwide with a special emphasis on France, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and England.

"Great travel experiences include sights, sounds, and also tastes," says Toni Neumeister, Crystal's vice president of food and beverages. "Our new certified experts will offer an added dimension to the culinary experience by educating and encouraging both novices and connoisseurs to discover new wines and cheeses that enhance their dining and travel encounters."

While I'm no connoisseur (I didn't know there is such a thing as a Cheese Sommelier), I am glad to know it's no accident that I prefer Gouda Cheese with my Chardonnay. Maybe I'm not such a novice after all!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Victoria, Now Formally A Cunard Queen

The hand-over ceremony of Cunard Line's Queen Victoria took place at the Fincantieri Marghera shipyard in Venice to mark the completion of the ship. With Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and corporate dignitaries on board, the celebration included performances throughout the day by the Band of the Scots Guards.

On the bridge and now in command of the new 90,000-ton vessel is Captain Paul Wright, pictured here. Queen Victoria is due to leave the shipyard on November 30, and sail to Southampton, where she will berth at the City Cruise Terminal at 9:30 am on Friday December 7. Following her Naming Ceremony on December 10, Queen Victoria will depart on her Maiden Voyage, to a splendid firework display, at 5:00 pm on Tuesday December 11.

While I won't be sailing on her sold-out inaugural cruise, I will be on hand to share details of the Naming Ceremony with you... and other little details, such as her Godmother HRH The Duchess of Cornwall's christening wardrobe and, of course, a signature Cruise Diva photo tour.

Take a peek at our preview info about Queen Victoria and watch for reports on the festivities next month.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Two Ships, Two Profiles: Carnival Freedom & Costa Fortuna

It isn't often that I have the opportunity to experience two ships in one week and I'm delighted to share them with you on CruiseDiva.com.

First, I sailed on the 4-night maiden Caribbean cruise on Carnival Freedom from Miami to Key West and Cozumel on Nov 12-16. Then, I spent the night aboard Costa Fortuna in Fort Lauderdale on Nov 17 as she prepared for her inaugural Caribbean season.

The ships are similar in layout, yet oh-so-different. Take a look...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Time To Choose: Which Girl Has "IT"?

Wow! More than 500 online video entries were submitted by Latitudes members (past NCL guests) in the Search for the Latitudes “It” Girl contest. Based on creativity and the originality of their submissions, including how they embody the attributes of NCL’s hottest, hippest new ship, Norwegian Gem, as well as the free spirit of NCL’s Freestyle Cruising, NCL has whittled the entrants down to five finalists.

Now that finalists have been chosen, NCL needs your help. They only have one chance to get this right because the winner will be named Godmother of its new ship, Norwegian Gem and receive the ultimate bling, a fab 7-day cruise in Norwegian Gem’s posh Garden Villa for her and five members of her entourage. So, listen up. This is important. And keep in mind that BFFs come and go, but a godmother is forever.

Finalist videos are now posted on http://www.gemitgirl.com/ and YOU are invited to help pick the winner by voting for your favorite “It” Girl now through December 7, 2007. The five finalists will be whisked away to Norwegian Gem’s christening ceremony on December 18, 2007 in New York City where the winner will be revealed and will christen the ship.

So, which one will it be? Which has the qualities of an “It” Girl--sophistication, independence and confidence, eagerness to explore new destinations and learn new things, glamour, style and culture, along with a youthful and adventurous spirit? Cruise Diva has a fave, but isn't telling. Watch the videos and you decide.

Shades of Titanic: Rescue at Sea

The Associated Press reports that 154 passengers and crew aboard the expedition ship Explorer took to lifeboats in frigid Antarctic waters early Friday morning. All were safely transferred to Nordnorge, a Norwegian cruise ship. No injuries have been reported at this time.

A fist-sized hole was punched in the hull of Explorer when it struck an iceberg or other submerged object before dawn near the South Shetland Islands, south of Argentina.

Seas were calm during the rescue, according to Susan Hayes, a representative of GAP Adventures, the Canadian-based operator of the tour aboard the Explorer. It is unclear whether the abandoned vessel will sink, although it is listing heavily and sinking seems likely.

UPDATE: Although pumps were used earlier in an effort to save Explorer, subsequent photos have shown it lying on one side with its hull exposed. Britain's Sky News reports that according to a Chilean Navy spokeman, "Our units in the area aren't seeing anything. The Explorer is not visible any longer." The ship has apparently succumbed to its injuries and sunk.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Aloha, Hawaii


The Associated Press reports that by the end of 2007, 469 cruise ship calls to the Big Island of Hawaii are expected to generate upward of $94 million in visitor expenditures. That's the good news. However, the bad news is that cruise ship calls to the island are expected to drop by nearly a third next year, eliminating hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tourist revenue. The average passenger spends about $100 per day during a day in port, buying souvenirs, going on tours, and dining ashore. Their future absence will be painful to the local economy. The pain doesn't stop there, though. While ship visits are expected to fall to 310 in 2008, the numbers are expected to decline further through 2011.

Norwegian Cruise Lines is withdrawing NCL America's Pride of Hawaii from island service altogether in Feb 2008 and a revised schedule for Pride of Aloha that began this year in Sept has reduced that vessel's Big Island calls from once a week to only twice every three weeks to accommodate its longer, 10- to 11-day itineraries that include Fanning Island. According to NCL, an increase in foreign-flagged competition entering the Hawaii market from the mainland has caused an excess of capacity and accounts for its poor yields in the state that they were expected to "own" with its US-flagged ships.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Costa Fortuna: Love, Laughter, La Dolce Vita in the Caribbean

Where has Cruise Diva been the past few days?

To celebrate Costa Cruises' 60-year Diamond Anniversary and the debut of Costa Fortuna in the Caribbean, we spent last Saturday night on board in Fort Lauderdale.

After checking in and touring the ship, we enjoyed a fantastic celebratory dinner followed by a special presentation featuring Costa Fortuna's entertainers in the main show lounge. Other highlights were a pizza tossing demonstration, bocce ball games, a comedy show, and dancing in the main lounges. Costa really knows how to throw a party!

Costa Fortuna has now begun her season of Eastern, Western, and Southeastern Caribbean sailings that continue through April 2008. Unfortunately, she set sail yesterday without us, but now that we've sampled "Cruising Italian Style," we look forward to the opportunity to experience a real cruise soon.

Here's the link to our photo tour of Costa Fortuna. You won't want to miss the images of this magnificent ship.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Carnival Freedom: A Fun Day at Sea

Someone should thank Mother Nature for the absolutely gorgeous weather during this cruise--sunny days, with cooling tropical breezes. Our day at sea was absolutely ideal for lounging in the sun and watching the synchronized swimming contest, video concerts on the big-screen Seaside Theater, or enjoying the live music by Caribbean Breeze. For kids in Camp Carnival, there was a build-your-own Teddy Bear Workshop. Naturally, the last day of our cruise offered an opportunity to try our luck in the casino and then do some last minute shopping.

But dinner in the Sun King Supper Club was the highlight of the day. I started with a New England crab cake and then tried what turned out to be fantastic lobster bisque. With choices like prime rib, Dover sole meuniere, porterhouse steak, lamb chops, free range chicken, and veal chops, it could have been difficult to make a selection. However, I had my eye on the surf 'n turf from the moment I opened the menu. How could I pass up a lobster tail, grilled filet over cardamom carrots, and pumpkin ravioli? To top off dinner, the citrus cheesecake was a light and refreshing dessert. The restaurant itself is an absolutely stunning room with lovely tapestries and marble accents. We particularly enjoyed the live music and opportunity to dance between courses. The supper club is a don't miss evening of fine dining.

Then it was time for a final "Big Easy" production show in the Victoriana Lounge and last minute packing. It seemed like we'd just boarded, but we were able to pack a lot of fun into four nights!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Carnival Freedom: A Day in Cozumel

"Double the Carnival Fun"--Carnival Freedom and Carnival Fascination

After an early start to the day in Key West and a late night evening last night, we looked forward to sleeping in today. While we weren't scheduled to arrive in Cozumel until 1pm, Capt. D'Aita surprised us with an early arrival and Carnival Freedom docked at the International Pier shortly after 11am, just as we were finishing up a late breakfast. With five ships in port, we feel fortunate to be docked as not all the pier facilities here have undergone repair. Carnival Fascination is tied up beside us, Carnival Legend and Grand Princess are docked downtown, and passengers from Norwegian Sun are tendering ashore.

It was a busy day in San Miguel, but we did a bit of shopping and relaxed with light refreshments at Las Palmeras and spent a festive hour or so at Senor Frog before heading back to the pier and reboarding Carnival Freedom. With our ship fairly empty, we snapped some pictures and will have a photo tour to share when we get back home.

At dinner last night it was difficult to select from such a varied menu. I passed up the Black Tiger Shrimp Cocktail in favor of Pumpkin Soup and a Broiled Lobster Tail with a glass of Georges Blanc Chardonnay won over Prime Rib. Tonight was easy--we decided to have early dinner and I headed for Carnival Freedom's really excellent pizza and a Caesar salad. It may seem a bit backward, but now I'm ready for a shower and an evening of fun. That's the beauty of a cruise vacation these days--there's something for everyone and choices abound.

We'll end the night at the Mexican Buffet poolside. By then I'm sure to be hungry again!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Carnival Freedom: A Day in Key West


Even though Key West isn't a "big" town--Duval Street is a mere 14 blocks long from sea to sea--we maximized our short time in port by taking a tour on the Old Town Trolley to see some of the landmarks we've missed during our past explorations around town.

One of Key West's newest attractions, and bound to be the highlight of anyone's day, is the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center where exhibits include an interactive map of the Florida Keys, a replica of the Aquarius underwater laboratory, a "living reef" and replicas of South Florida habitats such as mangroves, complete with sound effects. A beautifully filmed orientation movie emphasizes the importance of the reefs, the hammock, and the interaction of the species that inhabit the delicate eco-system. For families, it's a wonderful opportunity to learn together and it's just a short distance from Truman Dock. We were told it offers a triple benefit to visitors--there's air conditioning, no admission charge, and plentiful parking. Eventually a promenade along the waterfront will make it easier to reach on foot, although it's certainly within walking distance even today.

Leaving Key West behind at 2pm, we're looking forward to formal night, which means a splendid dinner followed by one of Carnival's lavish production shows--Ticket to Ride. Then, perhaps a bit of jazz and a nightcap in the Habana Bar or late-night fun around the piano in... where else? the Piano Bar. The night is young, but we're not, so we'll save some energy for Cozumel tomorrow.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Carnival Freedom: Embarkation Day


Some embarkations are easier than others. Here in Miami, Carnival's new terminal is the picture of efficiency. Three of four security scanners were open today and the process was swift. Be prepared with your identification and ticket and to send your laptop through the x-ray machine just as if you were in an airport. After reaching the second level, there are 50 check-in stations and little or no waiting, depending on how busy it is when you arrive. Up one more set of escalators, smile for your embarkation photo and you're almost on board.

Something that surprised--and delighted--us was assistance to our stateroom. We had several carry-on bags and a steward with a luggage cart relieved us of our stuff in the lobby and took it all right to our cabin. All-in-all, this has been the most carefree embarkation we can recall. We've had lunch in the casual buffet Freedom Restaurant, our luggage is unpacked, and the fun has begun.

At sailaway, a first from Miami for Carnival Freedom, we traded repeated salutes with Carnival Fascination. We're on our way!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On the Road to Freedom

That's Carnival Freedom and we're Miami-bound to embark on Monday for a 4-night cruise.

Follow along daily on the Cruise Diva Blog as we sail on Carnival Cruise Lines' newest "Fun Ship" to Key West and Cozumel.

We'll be leaving from the new terminal in the Port of Miami and look forward to sharing info about that as well.

Here's hoping for clear skies, calm sea, and fast Internet connections!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Titanic Survivors: Now There Is One

Barbara West Dainton, one of the last two survivors from the tragic sinking of the Titanic in April of 1912, has died at the age of 96. Dainton spent her last years at a nursing home in England and, according to a relative, her funeral was held last Monday. Too young to remember the night the ocean liner hit an iceberg and sank, throughout her lifetime she avoided publicity associated with Titanic and left instructions that her funeral take place before any public announcement of her death.

The sole living survivor of the disaster is Elizabeth "Millvina" Dean of Southampton, England, who was only 2 months old at the time the Titanic went down.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Spirit of Nantucket Grounded

Spirit of Nantucket, one of the small ships in Cruise West's fleet, was heading south on a 10-day cruise from Alexandria, VA., to Charleston, SC with 66 passenger aboard when it hit something in the Intracoastal Waterway around 5:30 am and began taking on water. The captain ran the vessel aground to prevent its sinking.

The Coast Guard evacuated everyone in the Intracoastal Waterway near an isolated area of Virginia Beach and took them to a ferry landing about two miles away. Cruise West made arrangements to take the passengers to a hotel. No injuries have been reported.

For its 2008 Alaska season, Cruise West plans to rename the 102-passenger ship Spirit of Glacier Bay.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pain at the Pump: Fuel Prices Force Fare Increases

With the price of fuel rapidly approaching $100 per barrel, Regent Seven Seas Cruises has announced a fuel surcharge of $7.50 per person, per day will be added to fares for 2008 voyages. The surcharge applies to existing bookings that are not paid in full by Dec 1 and new bookings made after that date.

It's not just luxury lines that are being squeezed by fuel prices. The North American brands of Carnival Corp & plc have announced they will implement a fuel supplement of $5 per person per day. The supplement, which only applies to the first and second guests in a stateroom and will not exceed $70 per person per voyage, is effective on all bookings for voyages departing on or after Feb. 1, 2008 on the following Carnival Corporation & plc brands: Carnival Cruise Lines, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and The Yachts of Seabourn.

Other cruise lines that have already announced fuel surcharges are Crystal Cruises ($5 per person, per day on 2007 cruises), Hurtigruten ($6 per person, per day), and AIDA Cruises.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Podcasting: The New Wave of Vacation Planning for Disney Cruise Line

In a cruise industry first, Disney Cruise Line is reaching out to potential passengers through podcasts that offer a new way to get customized information about family-friendly Disney cruise vacations. Hosted by family travel expert Emily Kaufman (also known as The Travel Mom), the fifteen podcast episodes of Magic & Wonder: Cruising with Disney showcase the unique experiences Disney offers on a cruise vacation. Providing in-depth, portable information on specific areas of Disney Cruise Line, each episode offers tips for parents considering a family cruise vacation.

Interested? You can find all the videos on the Disney Cruise Line web site. In addition to watching episodes on the website or downloading them directly to your computer or video iPod, you can also share episodes with friends and family via email.

What a great way to get your friends and family interested in a cruise!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Cruise Ships: Build It & They Will Book It

Only a year after The Yachts of Seabourn announced that it would build two new, ultra luxury ships, advance booking activity for the first--to be christened Seabourn Odyssey--has led to the line's decision to exercise the option for a third sister-ship.

"Our decision to order a third new ship is based partly on the enthusiasm we have already seen for our new ship design," explained Seabourn's president & CEO, Pamela Conover. "That enthusiasm, combined with research indicating a continuing robust expansion in demand for ultra luxury cruising in general, convinces us that we have the right formula at the right time," she continued.

Seabourn Odyssey will debut in June of 2009. Bookings for its maiden season are being accepted from the general public starting today, after a successful advance booking period reserved for past guests of the line. The second ship in the series is scheduled to enter service in the summer of 2010.

The 32,000-GRT ships, with hulls 650 ft long and 84 ft wide, will accommodate just 450 guests in 225 luxury suites, ninety percent of which will offer private verandas. The ships are specifically designed to achieve a balance between Seabourn's small-ship signatures, such as its highly personalized service, truly fine dining, and exceptional delivery of destinations, with the added spaciousness, features and amenities that a larger ship will allow. Seabourn's guests will continue to enjoy an unmatched level of personalized service from a skilled and dedicated staff, and one of the highest space-per-guest ratios in the industry.

Photo: Odyssey, The Marina– Offering complimentary watersports including kayaking, windsurfing and snorkeling (courtesy of Seabourn)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What's happened to CruiseDiva.com?

If you've visited--or should I say tried to visit--CruiseDiva.com in the past day, you have been disappointed to receive an error message instead of the web site. The hosting service we have used without a problem during the last seven years is undergoing a "server migration" that was supposed to take a few hours in the dead of night. Apparently nothing ran smoothly and ALL the web sites hosted by my service, as well as many others, are still unavailable.

I apologize for the inconvenience. It's a headache for me too. I'm thinking of alternatives if the problems aren't solved very soon.

Linda

Friday, November 2, 2007

Princess Cruises Wants to Know Our Preferences

We all get requests to take surveys now and then and I mostly ignore them. However, I received an email inviting me, as a past passenger, to participate in a Princess Cruises "to better understand what European ports and cruise itineraries are most appealing." It further explained, "As a valued captains circle member and because of your unique experience with Princess Cruises, you have been selected to share your thoughts and help us plan exciting new itineraries for the European theater." How could I resist?

Plus, there was this incentive: "Your opinion will assist us in shaping the future of Princess Cruises and enable us to tailor memorable experiences specifically designed for you—our customer." Well, when a cruise line needs me, I'm there for them!

What did they want to know? First off, the usual demographics stuff--my sex and date of birth, country of residence, the number of cruises I've taken in total and the number I've been on in last three years. They also asked how likely I am to take one soon (one week until I sail again!), and asked me indicate where I've been on a list of 56 destinations. I'd been to 34 of them and have to admit that I've never heard of some on the list.

Then I rated my interest on a scale of from 1-10 in each port from a lengthy list. I generally ranked them 10 for those I'd like to return to, 6 for those that I've been to and consider ho-hum, and 8 for a few that were unfamiliar, but sound interesting--like Bulgaria (just one of several dozen choices). There were also three regions to rank from 1-10--the Med, Baltic, Holy Land. All rate a 10 from me.

Questions asked to help Princess Cruises analyze my responses were what state do I live in, my zip code, marital status, the number of adults in our household, and income category.

After participating to the survey, I got to thinking about my preferences in terms of well-known vs. less familiar ports and realized I like a mix. And my preference in ship size is generally under 1,500 passengers.

It's nice to know that Princess Cruises takes the opinion of Captain's Circle members to heart.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Cruises: Better in The Bahamas?

They used to say, “It's Better In The Bahamas.” Whether that old tourism slogan is true or not, cruising is about to get better than ever with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) returning to Grand Bahama Island beginning next month. The line is increasing calls to The Bahamas, adding a total of 32 cruises between 2007 and 2009. Twenty-eight of these calls will be made by NCL’s new “It” Girl, Norwegian Gem, which entered service on October 1, 2007. Norwegian Jewel will make the first stop in Grand Bahama, along with a stop in Nassau, during a three-day Bahamas Getaway cruise on November 15, 2007, sailing roundtrip from Miami.

“This deployment reaffirms NCL’s long standing commitment to its relationship with The Bahamas which began some forty years ago. NCL was the first of the major cruise lines to call at The Bahamas and was the first in the industry to own and include a private island experience in our itineraries, at Great Stirrup Cay in the Berry Islands,” said Andy Stuart, NCL’s executive vice president of marketing, sales and passenger services. “We also have a long history of pioneering the development of new cruise destinations and we are pleased to be a part of establishing Grand Bahama Island as a major cruise destination.”

NCL decided to return to Grand Bahama Island after being invited by the Ministry of Tourism to experience all the island had to offer. NCL’s development team toured the area for the new cruise port facility, visited with the dolphins at UNEXSO, enjoyed a rugged Safari Jeep Tour exploring the nature trails of Grand Bahama and took an air boat tour through the mangroves. NCL estimates that these calls will contribute approximately $9 million directly to the economy of the Bahamas, with $4 million going directly to Grand Bahama Island

Get the itinerary details in Cruise Diva's Cruise News and read about Ports of Call in the Bahamas to discover what to see and do.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

When is a cruise not a cruise?

Why, when it's a "repositioning cruise" or a transatlantic crossing! It's that time of year when major North American cruise lines are repositioning their ships from Europe to the Caribbean.

There was a time when repositioning cruises weren't widely advertised and were heavily discounted. No more. While they can still be a relative bargain, if you don't count airfare, they've become very popular and are now proudly listed in cruise lines' brochures along with all the usual sailings. Some unique ports of call are often added to the mix when departing Europe in the fall and possibly a port call or two might be made before reaching Florida (or vice versa in the spring). But for die-hard cruisers the allure is five, six, or even seven or more glorious sea days with nothing to do but enjoy the ship.

Crossing the Atlantic by ship is so popular that Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 offers a regularly-scheduled series of crossings that are chock full of things to do. What's a crossing like? Take a look at Cruise Diva's Crossing on the Queen Mary 2.

If you love to spend your time at sea, consider a repositioning cruise or a crossing. Find out more in "Cruising or "Crossing"?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tropical Storm Noel: Caribbean & Bahamas Cruise Ship Itinerary Alterations

Update 3:45 pm: Tropical storm warnings remains in effect for the central and northwestern Bahamas. A tropical storm watch may be required for southeast Florida later today or tonight. To follow Tropical Storm Noel's path, the National Hurricane Center has maps and coordinates.

Due to the effects of Tropical Storm Noel, Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Lines have announced itinerary changes for cruise ships presently sailing on Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries. For details and the latest schedule updates, see the listing at CruiseBlogger.com.

There are no changes at present in upcoming cruise ship embarkations or debarkations from Florida ports.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tropical Storm Noel: A Rainmaker

Tropical Storm Noel's top winds weakened this morning, but the heavy rain it dumped on Haiti and the Dominican Republic caused flooding as the storm moved westward across the Caribbean. Noel is tracking slowly toward the north-northwest and is expected to move in a general northwesterly sweep for the next 24 hours. Top winds, which were up to 60 mph, dropped to 50 mph in the latest advisory from the Natl Hurricane Center in Miami. Tropical storm-force winds extend up to 115 miles from the eye. Heavy rain will hit Puerto Rico through Tuesday and intense downpours are expected for Jamaica and southeast Cuba.

Forecasters project Noel will cross the eastern end of Cuba before turning northward toward the Bahamas. The government of the Bahamas has issued tropical storm watches for the southeastern Bahamas, including the Turks and Caicos Islands. Noel is presently not expected to become a hurricane, or become a threat to the United States.

At this point, Noel has not seriously impacted cruise travel in the Caribbean.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Captain Stubing Speaks

It's been 30 years since The Love Boat sailed onto our televisions and actor Gavin McLeod, who we know as Capt Stubing, remains Princess Cruises' most recognizable spokesman. Did you know there were two failed pilots for the show before McLeod took the helm of the smash hit?

I have to wonder if cruise vacations would have such broad appeal if The Love Boat had never aired. Take a walk down memory lane as Capt Stubing, oops--make that Gavin McLeod--reflects on his career and his favorite travel destinations, and the changes he's seen in cruising over the past three decades. Read the interview, "Love Boat Captain Gavin MacLeod: The Past, The Future and His Favorite Cruise Destinations" in the American Chronicle.

(Photo: Capt Stubing poses with Cruise Diva on board Crown Princess)

Friday, October 26, 2007

CruiseDiva.com on Good Morning America

Just in case you overslept or were driving to work and missed it, the Good Morning America segment featuring Linda Coffman is now online.

This link will take you to the Video.

Azamara Quest Photo Tour

Not so long ago it seemed that the former-Renaissance Cruises introduced new "R" ships every few months. And they did. When Renaissance was hard hit by financial difficulties in 2001, R7 eventually landed in the Pullmantur Cruises fleet and sailed as Blue Moon. You may know that Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, parent company of Royal Caribbean Intl, Celebrity Cruises, Pullmantur, and the newly-founded Azamara Cruises has done some ship-swapping this year and R7/Blue Moon has been formally launched as Azamara Quest.

As a former Renaissance passenger, I can only say WOW! Gone are the rock-hard mattresses, Laura Ashley style fabrics, and bland hunting lodge prints. After a 20-million dollar rejuvenation, in their place are elegant furniture coverings and carpets in soft jewel tones, contemporary artwork, simulated teak decking, and the cushiest outdoor areas to relax at sea. Added are Mosaic Cafe in the upper lobby where specialty coffee drinks, pastries, and light snacks are available during the day and an assortment of tapas are served at night and Breeza, an aft-facing bar and dining area aft of the Windows Cafe casual dining buffet restaurant. With the conversion of 48 staterooms to 32 suites, the passenger count is a cozy 694.

Don't take my word for it that Azamara Quest is stunning. Browse through Cruise Diva's Photo Tour with more than 50 images and see for yourself what a deluxe cruise line looks like.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

CruiseDiva.com on GOOD MORNING AMERICA

Linda demonstrates how to navigate CruiseDiva.com for ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA

Tune in to ABC television on FRIDAY, OCT 26, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Azamara Quest Blasts Off on Maiden Cruise

You may not be familiar with Azamara Cruises--the recently-launched cruise line's name is a coined term. Rooted in Romance language, "aza" references blue and "mar" the sea. Additionally, a lesser-known term, "acamar," in Classical times, was the southernmost bright star that could be seen from the latitude of Greece.

On a quest to conquer the deluxe cruise market, Azamara Cruises introduced their second 694-passenger ship, Azamara Quest to the fleet on October 22nd. As we sailed north from Miami on the first of two introductory 2-night cruises, we knew we were in for a treat, but we didn't know just how special.

Tuesday morning, Capt Bouzakis announced that Cape Canaveral was within view from Azamara Quest's port side and we were in count-down mode for the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery. While the company views the new cruise brand as "a bright star on the deep blue sea," passengers on Azamara Quest's maiden cruise were thrilled with another once-in-a-lifetime experience--to see a brilliant shuttle launch from a cruise ship at sea.

While upon the "blue sea" we had the best view of an extraordinary man-made "bright star." It was certainly quite a show!

For more information, see Azmara Cruises web site.

Photo Courtesy of Azmara Cruises

Monday, October 22, 2007

Where's Cruise Diva?

Here's a hint--I'm even further south than my home in Georgia, the weather is warm, and the city is known as the World's Cruise Capital. Have you located me yet?

Yes! I'm in Miami and settling into my stateroom on Azamara Quest. It's time for an exciting preview sailing! We won't be calling on any ports, which means I hope to get to know the ship quite well.

Watch for my reports. To learn more, visit the Azamara Cruises web site.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

It's Going to be Snowing on Princess Ships this Holiday Season

What does a white Christmas mean to you? To me, it evokes the memory of Currier & Ives prints and sleigh rides. You won't have to pass up that nostalgia if you are cruising on a Princess ship in the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, or even Brazil this year. As unlikely as it seems, holiday season passengers on most Princess ships will find themselves in a winter wonderland as snow magically falls in the ships' atriums during December cruises. The falling flakes will vanish on contact, offering wintery bliss without the need to shovel. The snowfall will occur on all Princess ships except for the line' three small vessels: Pacific Princess, Tahitian Princess, and Royal Princess, which do not have large, multi-story atriums.

The daily snow flurry is one of several new onboard activities added to celebrate the spirit of the season. Also new are a gingerbread housebuilding competition, sessions to create personalized photo ornaments, and a crackling "Yule log" on stateroom televisions (the perfect setting for snuggling). For those who yearn to release their untapped American Idol, the ships' Princess Pop Star talent show will feature a holiday edition where competitors can croon their favorite seasonal songs.

Even when the snow isn't coming down, Princess ships will feature a festive atmosphere. Trimmed from stem to stern in holiday décor, even the masts will sport a Christmas tree. Special events will include a reading of "The Night Before Christmas" by either the captain or cruise director, and strolling carolers. Passengers will receive a holiday card from the captain, a stocking turndown gift, and watch classic holiday films. A spectacular display from the ship's culinary team is sure to please palates, and a holiday variety show adds a seasonal element to the ship's entertainment offerings. Passengers can also attend midnight mass or an inter-denominational church service performed by onboard clergy.

Assure your junior cruisers that Santa Claus will find them onboard with his sack full of toys. Youngsters can try their hand at Christmas cookie decorating, balloon making, face painting, games, and other contests during a holiday fair. Each age group will have holiday parties in the Youth Centers where the kids can make decorations to display on the center's Christmas tree. Children can get creative with other holiday-themed arts and crafts projects throughout the cruise and they will hold their own show to perform Christmas carols for passengers. For parents who want to stay up later to celebrate the holidays, free late-night group kid sitting sessions will be available on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

You'll know whether you've been naughty or nice when Santa makes an early delivery of cruise documents. To get in on the action, see a professional travel agent, call 1-800-PRINCESS, or visit the Princess Cruises web site.

Ladies, reassure the family football fans that they won't miss the New Years Day's college bowl games while at sea. The telecasts will be shown (as available by satellite) in a shipboard lounge or on some vessels' giant Movies Under the Stars screen.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Carnival Cruise Lines Provides Discounted Cruise Fares to Military Members & Families

To honor those who serve us in the military and their families, Carnival Cruise Lines is offering a Veteran's Day promotion throughout the month of Nov. Active and retired military personnel are able to book up to three "Fun Ship" staterooms for themselves and their friends and family members at special discounted rates.

Reservations must be made between Nov 1-30, 2007, to qualify for this promotion, which is available in conjunction with a wide range of 3- to 12-day departures through Dec 31, 2008. Per person rates start at $189 for 3-day cruises from Miami, FL, and 4-day cruises from Long Beach, CA; $249 for 5-day cruises from Mobile, AL, and Jacksonville, FL; $279 for 4- and 5-day cruises from San Diego, CA; and $399 for 7-day cruises from Miami.

"Veteran's Day is a time that our country honors the sacrifice and service of our military personnel and Carnival is doing its part by providing exceptionally attractive rates to our men and women in uniform," said Vicki Freed, senior vice president sales and guest services.

The promotion is valid for individual bookings only, is capacity controlled, and not applicable with any other discount offer. Fare code CPM1 must be requested during the reservations process and military personnel must provide proof of service. Certain other restrictions apply. For additional information and reservations, contact any travel agent, call 1-800-CARNIVAL or visit www.carnival.com.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hopes Dashed for Windjammer Barefoot Cruise Passengers

While their web site is once again operational, is anything else afloat at Windjammer Barefoot Cruises?

Unfortunately, booked passengers have received more bad news in their email boxes:


Dear Shipmates,

We are contacting you about an important change to your upcoming cruise. We are sorry to inform you that S/V “Legacy”, S/V “Yankee Clipper” and S/V “Mandalay” will not sail the week of October 27th/28th, 2007 due to matters that cannot be ignored. Unfortunately we will be unable to correct the situation with enough time for the cruise to sail. We truly apologize for the extreme short notice and for the inconvenience.

We will gladly re-accommodate you on a future sail date if you choose to reschedule your cruise. If you are unable to re-schedule your cruise for a later date and decide to request a refund, please know we will issue you a complete refund of your paid cruisefare. If you choose to reschedule your cruise, please call our reservation message line at 1 (800) 327-2600. Regrettably, Windjammer Barefoot Cruises will not be able to cover any air costs incurred and associated with another sail date or ship. We are also unable to cover any air costs if you request a cruise refund.

Once again we are truly sorry for any inconvenience this matter has caused you. We hope you will be able to re-schedule your cruise.

Respectfully,
Windjammer Barefoot Cruises
"Inconvenenience" barely covers it...

Photo: SV Mandalay, Windjammer Barefoot Cruise

Find Holiday ‘Magic’ and ‘Wonder’ at Sea on Disney Cruise Line Ships

Is that snow or pixie dust? Aboard Disney Cruise Line ships, the holiday celebrations start with Halloween and last through the final toast of the new year. From traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts to "snowflake" sightings and caroling, the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder will sparkle with the joy of the holiday season.

Set to begin with the Oct 27th and 28th sailings, guests can participate in some Halloween fun with a trail of candy stations for kids that culminates in a dance party on the top deck and special costume parties in each of the youth activity areas. Adults aren't overlooked--bring your costume because there's a dance party and costume contest with prizes. We wonder if the Mickeys will outnumber the Minnies.

Disney characters decked out in their finest holiday attire will welcome passengers to the lavishly decorated private at Port Canaveral, FL cruise terminal beginning in late-Nov. Once aboard, you'll find special themed activities, decorations, and even a transformed winter wonderland on Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. On Thanksgiving Day, you'll enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving feast complete with all the trimmings.

After Thanksgiving, guests will partake in holiday cheer, including:
  • A nearly three-deck-tall tree festooned with decorations in the atrium lobby, where "snow" flurries fall and a tree-lighting ceremony occurs
  • A Christmas Day visit from Santa Goofy, with surprises for all the kids
  • International holiday caroling by crew members from around the globe (exclusively on the Christmas cruises)
  • Special family time for designing and decorating gingerbread houses
  • Mrs. Claus will read "The Night Before Christmas"
  • Traditional holiday feasts in Disney's three themed dining rooms (Christmas cruises only)
  • Multiple faith and interdenominational holiday services (Christmas and Hanukkah cruises only)
  • A ship-wide party to ring in 2008 and a New Year's Day tailgate party
The fun even extends to Disney's private hideaway on Castaway Cay. When Disney Magic and Disney Wonder arrive just after Thanksgiving, you'll find the island transformed into a "snowy" holiday paradise. "Snow" flurries will fall like magic and Mr. and Mrs. Snowman, in their finest tropical attire will greet you with a sleigh full of presents. Even the tram that transports you across the island will be transformed into a reindeer-drawn "sleigh," complete with antlers and tail.

To learn more about these and other fabulous Disney Cruise Line voyages, visit www.disneycruise.com and read the reviews on CruiseDiva.com.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sweet SeaDreams

I have good news and bad news. First, the good stuff. SeaDream Yacht Club just might make you so comfy at night on their new Sweet Dreams Signature Beds that (here comes the bad news) you just might oversleep.

The new Sweet Dreams Signature Bedding Collection may be set up to your preference as either a queen-size or single bed. The snooze-inducing mattresses and pillow tops are fitted with silky Belgian linens, as well as your choice of woolen blankets or duvets and foam or down pillows. All SeaDream guests receive personally monogrammed blue and white, two-piece cotton pajamas to perfectly complement sweet dreams.

Interviewed for this announcement while reclining on one of the new beds--just before he nodded off--Larry Pimentel, SeaDream’s President & CEO, said “The addition of our new Sweet Dreams Signature Bedding collection is an example of how SeaDream’s attention to detail benefits our guests."

By the way, don't confuse the new in-stateroom beds with SeaDream’s Balinese SunBeds--the double beds up on deck where you can lounge by day in the sun or shade, and even spend the night sleeping under the stars if you wish. Don't forget your jammies!

For more info, take a photo tour and catch a video introduction to SeaDream Yacht Club. Or, read all about it in first-hand reviews of SeaDream cruises on CruiseDiva.com.

You'll have to excuse me, though. Zzzzz...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Take Something Home From Your Cruise That You DIDN'T Pay For

Some passengers gloat over winning big in the ship's casino. That’s only money.

I’d rather have something that cash can’t buy. You know, the cool logo stuff you see other passengers have, but it's not available in the gift shop.

Where did they get it, and--more importantly--HOW? It's likely to be what I call loot. You know, the prizes that are awarded for being clever at Quest or a member of the smartest team during Trivia. Or, possibly, it was awarded after one of the other games where you might feel like you're making a fool of yourself until you get the prize.

What kind of treasures can you look forward to winning? Take a peek at Cruise Diva's Stash. It's full of souvenirs that no amount of money can buy.